The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating a potential crime involving bribery and presidential pardons, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
The document released by the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is heavily redacted with the names of the people involved blacked out.
It describes federal prosecutors seeking access in late August to the contents of digital devices seized by the government.
The court’s permission was needed because the contents of the devices included email conversations with a lawyer and may have been protected by attorney-client privilege. The prosecutors argued that that privilege was breached when the materials were shown to third parties.
The prosecutors told the court they expected to find evidence that certain individuals illegally "acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials … to secure a pardon or reprieve of sentence’" for someone whose name is also redacted in the document.
The document also cites "a related bribery conspiracy scheme" involving offering "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a pardon or reprieve of sentence."
The document indicates the prosecutors were given permission to access the devices in order to use the material to confront any subject or target of the investigation. However there has been no public reporting to date to suggest anyone has been charged with a crime related to the probe.
The White House declined a VOA request for comment on the matter. Hours later, Trump tweeted, "Pardon investigation is Fake News!"
Separately Tuesday, the New York Times reported that President Donald Trump has discussed with advisers the prospect of granting preemptive pardons to his sons Eric and Donald Jr., as well as his daughter, Ivanka, and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
ABC News also reported Tuesday that Trump aides have discussed such pardons.
In a tweet, Giuliani denied having discussed a potential preemptive pardon for himself with Trump.
"NYT lies again. Never had the discussion they falsely attribute to an anonymous source," Giuliani posted.
Neither Giuliani nor any of the Trumps have been charged with a federal crime, and it is unclear how exactly a preemptive pardon would hold up legally. A president can issue pardons for federal crimes, but not for state or local crimes.
Trump has issued a few high-profile pardons and commutations for his allies.
Last week, he pardoned Michael Flynn, who briefly served as national security adviser at the beginning of Trump’s term. In July, Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime adviser Roger Stone.